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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

PLAIN GAINS — there are no secrets


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

A Tale of Two Cities — Charles Dickens  Almost everyone will recognise those fascinatingly contradictory words. It was only when I looked them up, however, and read the rest of Dickens’s opening sentence, that I realised how pertinent the complete quote was, to this post — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we . . . “ And what do those words bring to mind when I read them? JANUARY! For a Personal Trainer, January is all of those things. A time to increase business, yes, but a time of frustration too, as the gym is packed with new (and returning) members — all of whom fit, in one way or another, with the sentiments expressed above. It is fascinating to watch the unfolding “Drama Of January”. The quiet and empty lethargy of the December gym  is transformed into the frantic, energetic and noisy gym of January — everybody bustling about, full of purpose and resolve, very pleased with their fat-burning, muscle-building programs, guaranteed to get that Boom Bod! But as the days and weeks go by, their hopes slowly fade, they are incredulous, bewildered that they still look and feel exactly the same as before. And every year it’s the same — slowly they are whittled down . . . fewer people, coming less often . . . until pretty much all that is left in the gym is the usual suspects, who are always there, rain or shine, winter or summer — year after year. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic — after all,  this is a world I wholeheartedly endorse. In my opinion, there is no better use of one’s time, than spending it in the gym — prolonging vitality, increasing muscle and bone strength, staying lean and healthy, and keeping the cardiovascular system fighting fit. Why then, am I so scathing? Because there are two things that almost all of the January crowd want: One, they want it now, and two, they want it with the minimum of effort. And that annoys me. These days the difficult way, the “honest” way, is scoffed at. Only a fool would want to put in the hours, pay their dues, and run the hard yards, when everywhere we look someone is offering them a fool-proof-half-the-time-with-hardly-any-effort alternative! There is only one problem with this dream scenario — there is no easy route and there are no secrets. (Granted, there is knowledge and experience, but that is another story.) It takes time, and it takes effort. Recently, I heard the perfect phrase to describe exactly this sort of non-glamorous, nose-to-the-grindstone attitude towards training, and indeed, life. It was shared with me by one of my Personal Trainer colleagues, Dan Parker. Dan has worked at the Tottenham Court Road Fitness First for more than 20 years, as a gym instructor, a fitness consultant and a Personal Trainer. Like so many of us long-term weights enthusiasts, he has tried every lifting and eating method known to man, and he can tell you what the “life-lifters” all agree on — consistency of effort, over a period of time, is the key to muscular success. In other words — train hard, be consistent, and do the basics. It’s not glamorous, it’s not the latest thing, but it works. Dan and I are part of a small band of PT’s who get to the gym at 6am, ready to train our first clients at the 6:30 opening time. A few hours later, at 9:30, I quickly pop in to  the PT room to make a post-workout shake and eat a banana. Inevitably, Dan is sitting in “his” chair eating some skinless chicken he prepared the night before. It has neither seasoning nor sauce on it and looks rather bland and boring, and I like to wind him up by telling him so. Dan is unruffled, and, smilingly, simply says, “Plain gains!”, and continues to eat his chicken.  

Mr Parker, sitting in his chair, luvin’ those plain gains!

Although Dan is referring specifically to his chicken meal when using his “Plain Gains” mantra, obviously the meal is also a metaphor for his wider training philosophy. Have you ever watched any bodybuilding training videos? Jay Cutler, or say, Big Ronnie? They are so boring! They do the same stuff every day!! Eat the same food, at the same times, go to the same gym, also at the same time, and lift the same old weights — every single day! And that is how they become successful. 

Now I’m not saying this is a model that everyone should adopt. These guys are professional athletes, and their whole lives revolve around eating and training, but — you do have to adopt, on some level, the Plain Gains concept if your goal is to get bigger and stronger. (Not to mention taller and more handsome.) 

I said earlier that Dan smiles when he repeats his Plain Gains mantra. The reason he is smiling is that he is enjoying the food! Although it is fairly plain, it does actually taste good, it is healthy and nutritious, is a part of his wider dietary plan, and every mouthful is helping him to progress! All positives! Food does not have to be covered in butter or bbq sauce to be enjoyable, just ask the most excellent Bev Francis! ( See my post: Just taste the potato.) 


The inspirational Beverly Francis did not get to look like this by slathering her food in bbq sauce.  There is a Kate Moss quote that both Dan and I like, which got her into hot water when she first said it. She said: “Nothing tastes as good, as skinny feels.” Rather less controversially, Dan and I alter the original to suit our purpose — so we change it to: “Nothing tastes as good as lean and muscular feel.” 

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Essentially, this is just an extension of the Plain Gains deal, but with an emphasis on the mental attitude required to achieve a lean and muscular body. Fundamentally, it’s about eating for function, eating food because of what it can do for you. Eating food for its health-giving qualities. The taste, though important, is secondary.

I mentioned earlier that knowledge and experience are an important part of success in any nutritional strategy, and this is where they come in. Knowing which foods are healthy and tasty is crucial to facilitate dietary adherence. Reading and research will guide and inform you, but experience and experimentation are the keys to establishing your unique dietary regime. ( I am soon going to write a blog post on “Protein Fluff” and “Sarah Salads” to illustrate this point.) 

You have to find your way of eating, and what actual foods you like to eat, through trial and error. There is no quick-fix, no magic formula, no fancy celebrity-endorsed cure-all. It’s Plain Gains! Pure and simple. And those of us who have spent our lives living this fitness life . . . know it, accept it, and embrace it. Actually, we love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. Plain Gains all the way!! Dan demonstrates that “Plain Gains” can equate to a pretty fancy bod!


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